voice for democracy

‘On the edge of a cliff’: What voting rights tell us about US democracy – The Christian Science Monitor

Link copied.
We want to bridge divides to reach everyone.
A selection of the most viewed stories this week on the Monitor’s website.
Every Saturday
Hear about special editorial projects, new product information, and upcoming events.
Occasional
Select stories from the Monitor that empower and uplift.
Every Weekday
An update on major political events, candidates, and parties twice a week.
Twice a Week
Stay informed about the latest scientific discoveries & breakthroughs.
Every Tuesday
A weekly digest of Monitor views and insightful commentary on major events.
Every Thursday
Latest book reviews, author interviews, and reading trends.
Every Friday
A weekly update on music, movies, cultural trends, and education solutions.
Every Thursday
The three most recent Christian Science articles with a spiritual perspective.
Every Monday
Loading…
November 2, 2021
Black Americans have generally been taught that the path to equality comes through the ballot box. But we learned it the hard way – by virtue of the ongoing efforts to strip the vote from us through poll taxes, literacy tests, outright intimidation, and so on. 
My South Carolina roots remind me of what happened when Black men gained the right to vote after the Civil War. When the South Carolina constitutional convention met in Charleston on Jan. 14, 1868, it did so with a Black majority. But these efforts were ultimately decimated by white violence and Jim Crow.

Is the United States a democracy? Our commentator bases his assessment on a fundamental democratic principle – the right to vote.
Even the promise of the 1965 Voting Rights Act has been denied. As the late civil rights champion and Georgia congressman John Lewis put it, the VRA suffered a “dagger into the heart” in 2013 when the Supreme Court effectively gutted the protections it offered.
Congress and America’s leaders are in a position to do something different from the country’s forefathers – treat Black people and other people of color as full, not partial, Americans.
Passing voting rights legislation might be a low bar for some, but for America, it’s better than no bar. It’s a step toward building an America that Black people have never seen.
Last week, in response to the Senate’s failure to bring important voting rights legislation to the floor for debate, NAACP President Derrick Johnson released a statement that challenged Congress and the Biden administration:
Today was another punch in the gut for America. The failure to pass the Freedom to Vote Act is reprehensible. Combined with the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, this bill would have been a necessary step in the right direction for our democracy. But while our democracy dwindles on the edge of a cliff, lawmakers are still finding a way to put partisanship above the country.
A sentence near the end of the statement, in particular, grabbed my attention: “Don’t forget that Black voters landed a victory for this President and this Congress, so don’t fail us again.”

Is the United States a democracy? Our commentator bases his assessment on a fundamental democratic principle – the right to vote.
That point is important, but more so ironic: the idea of voting for someone or something that cannot guarantee your right to vote in the future.
I’ve heard the phrase “our democracy is at stake” a lot lately. Mr. Johnson himself suggests that democracy is teetering “on the edge of a cliff.” But the sad truth is that when and where people can’t vote freely and without deterrent, there is an absence of democracy.
America, for Black people, has largely been a land of broken or, at best, tenuous promises. We have generally been taught that the path to equality comes through the ballot box. But we learned it the hard way – by virtue of the ongoing efforts to strip the vote from us through poll taxes, literacy tests, outright intimidation, and so on. The vote is rightfully and righteously sacred to us, because the debt has been paid with literal blood, sweat, and tears.
Earlier this year, I wrote about Georgia’s past and present when it comes to voting rights. Last month the Brennan Center for Justice reported that, so far in 2021, at least 19 states have enacted 33 laws that make voting harder – primarily in states where voting was already fairly difficult. Overall, in this year’s legislative sessions, more than 425 bills restricting voter access have been introduced in 49 states. 
As a native of both Georgia and South Carolina, I grew up with the stories of civil rights legends. My Georgia roots remind me of the efforts of the late civil rights champion and Georgia congressman John Lewis, who admittedly “resented” the racial disparities that he witnessed and experienced in his youth:
As I was growing up in rural Alabama, I saw all around me the system of segregation and racial discrimination. … In a little five-and-ten store was a civil fountain, a clean fountain for white people to come and drink water, but in another corner of the store there was a little spigot, a rusty spigot [that] said ‘colored drinking.’ And I became resentful of the signs and all the visible evidence of segregation and racial discrimination.
My South Carolina roots remind me of what happened when Black men gained the right to vote after the Civil War. The Saturday, Nov. 16, 1867, issue of Harper’s Weekly has a depiction of Black men waiting in line, titled “The First Vote.” A number of Black men were elected to public office. In fact, when the South Carolina constitutional convention met in Charleston on Jan. 14, 1868, it did so with a Black majority.   
But these efforts were ultimately decimated by white violence and Jim Crow. Harper’s featured a cartoon in an August 1876 issue with a particularly crass depiction of the Black militiamen who were murdered in the Hamburg Massacre, one of many attacks intended to discourage the Black vote. It would be nearly a century before African Americans saw profound civil rights legislation. 
The tireless work of activists yielded three significant acts in the 1960s — the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965, and the Fair Housing Act in 1968. They should be mentioned together because, as Black people have learned, oppression isn’t isolated to a single issue. In legislating a wide range of rights, the acts should unquestionably have preserved the right to vote freely. As President Lyndon Johnson, who signed all three bills into law, said, “It is wrong, deadly wrong, to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of states’ rights or national rights, there is only the struggle for human rights.”
In reality, however, that right has once again been denied. As Mr. Lewis described it, the VRA suffered a “dagger into the heart” with the Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013. In essence, the VRA held future probations against certain states such as Georgia and my native South Carolina. Those states had “preclearance” requirements before they could change voting procedures because of their historical denial of voting and civil rights. But the 2013 ruling made those probations inoperable.
It is ironic that Mr. Lewis’ name is on the act that would restore the protections of the VRA – even in death, he is still in the midst of the fight for our presumed democracy.
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has been dangling the issue of voting rights over Black Americans’ heads like a carrot. Most recently, he co-sponsored the Freedom to Vote Act but is tying the bill’s fate to the Senate filibuster, arguing that voting rights aren’t a partisan issue.
He’s wrong, of course. Voting rights – and civil rights, for that matter – are as much a partisan issue as they are a (broken) promise. The deterrents are seared in America’s history – the rioters who think they’re “redeemers,” the rigging known as gerrymandering, the racist violence.
And then there are the undeterred, the individuals and groups who represent the closest thing we have to democracy. Martin Luther King recalled in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s motto was “To save the soul of America.” He also shared these lines from the “Black bard of Harlem,” Langston Hughes:
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!
Get the Monitor Stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
There is no democracy – and yet democracy is at stake. Congress and America’s leaders are in a position to do something different from the country’s forefathers: to treat Black people and other people of color as full, not partial, Americans.
Passing voting rights legislation might be a low bar for some, but for America, it’s better than no bar. It’s a step toward building an America that Black people have never seen.
Already a subscriber? Login
Monitor journalism changes lives because we open that too-small box that most people think they live in. We believe news can and should expand a sense of identity and possibility beyond narrow conventional expectations.
Our work isn’t possible without your support.
Already a subscriber? Login

Link copied.
We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.
Dear Reader,
About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:
“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”
If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.
But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.
The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.
We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”
If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.
Subscribe to insightful journalism
Less noise. More insight.
Follow us:
Your subscription to The Christian Science Monitor has expired. You can renew your subscription or continue to use the site without a subscription.
Return to the free version of the site
If you have questions about your account, please contact customer service or call us at 1-617-450-2300.
This message will appear once per week unless you renew or log out.
Your session to The Christian Science Monitor has expired. We logged you out.
Return to the free version of the site
If you have questions about your account, please contact customer service or call us at 1-617-450-2300.
You don’t have a Christian Science Monitor subscription yet.
Return to the free version of the site
If you have questions about your account, please contact customer service or call us at 1-617-450-2300.

source